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Salisbury Township School District reviews finances

The Salisbury Township School Board held a finance committee meeting May 3 to review the district’s revenue, expenditures and investments.

According to Dawn Nickischer, chief financial officer, a year-to-year data analysis shows revenues are 4.6% higher than at this time last year. Expenditures have increased over this time last year which has not been the case in the past few months due to a glitch in the reporting system. Payments for health and life insurance were paid on a monthly basis but were not posted as expenditures. This failure to report has since been corrected.

Cash and investments are significantly higher than last year standing at $31 million but this total includes a $6 million bond which will soon be paid out for ongoing projects.

The proposed final budget deadline is May 25 after which it will be made available to the public for a 20-day review period.

The budget must be adopted by June 14.

The governor’s budget has yet to be passed but the proposed budget includes a $383,402 increase in basic education funding and a $107,888 increase in special education funding.

The district, when crafting the current budget conservatively estimated receiving 50% of the proposed state funding.

Nickischer reported the Act I index increase of 4.1% will generate $1,185,100 before early payment discounts bringing the value of a mill to $1,323,146. In an effort to justify the need for a 4.1% increase she went on to identify the major cost drivers including an 11% increase in health insurance, new debt costs, salaries, (which are currently under negotiation), transportation and special education cost increases.

Directors Laura McKelvey and Joseph Kuzo called for a detailed line by line item comparison of last year’s budget and the current proposed budget which would more accurately reveal which expense categories are reflecting increased costs and what the actual costs are. McKelvey went on to say as a board it is irresponsible to raise taxes to a maximum level without all the information. She is concerned with finding exactly where $1.1 million is going.

Nickischer further explained the bulk of the district’s expenditure allocation is concentrated in three areas - salaries, benefits and debt payments. She pointed out 78% of the district’s revenue comes from taxpayers and the remaining 22% is made up of state and federal funding.

Several board members expressed concerns over future spending gaps and how the district intends to pay debts and cover costs.

McKelvey said she feels “our luck has run out” and referenced past practices of using the fund balance to close gaps, closing an elementary school and relying on federal funds to make it work. She went as far as saying she doesn’t feel the proposed budget is a responsible one because no money has been set aside for capital improvements, salary increases or funding the extended school year program which the district must by law provide and currently does not have the means to fund.

Director Rebecca Glenister pointed out the district is always in this position because there is no real increase in revenue within Salisbury Township due to a lack of growth within the community. Change will only come if public schools are funded differently.

Director Sam DeFrank suggested hiring an outside service to provide a detailed analysis of the capital needs for each of the district buildings and the costs involved. A detailed plan of action will then be formulated which will help prioritize what needs to be done and establish a workable timeline so money can be allocated to take care of necessary capital projects. The board agreed to explore this option further and identify associated costs to the district.

The dilemma the board is faced with centers around one essential question which is how to set aside money to tackle capital infrastructure projects without compromising programs or people that provide them.

This sentiment was reiterated by several board members who foresee difficult and painful decisions to be made in the near future.

The next meeting of the finance committee will be held June 7 immediately following the operations committee meeting.

All meetings are held in the administration building, 1140 Salisbury Road, Allentown.